Waldo and Emerson were seated at their customary table at Le Café Noir, sipping their espressos while watching the cavalcade of humanity around them stare at their phones.
An attractive young lady in her late teens sitting at a nearby table caught Emerson’s eye. She was dressed modestly, yet smartly, in blouse, skirt and color-coordinated ballet flats.
“Now, there’s a sight to see.” said Emerson in as soft and polite a tone as he could muster, “A young girl who is not a slave to fashion. No skin-tight short skirt, no flimsy blouse with plunging neckline, no foot-strangling spiked heels. Honestly, I don’t see how women can walk in those parrot perch pumps.”
His alliterative ad lib induced a self-satisfied smile that he could not suppress.
Waldo turned his head to look in the girl’s direction and at that same moment, an obvious playboy, cad about town and mountebank of malfeasance, reeking of odious charm, slithered over to the young subject of Emerson’s acclaim where he posed and preened for a moment before pouncing.
The two gents sat and watched as the perfumed Lothario attempted to seduce the young lass. At first she ignored him but the bounder was persistent. She then asked him politely to leave her alone. He would not accept her rebuff. Finally, she began to berate him with language so salty and severe that even a sailor or stevedore would have blushed to hear such loathsome epithets. She told him in no uncertain blue tones what he should do and when as well as how.
Waldo turned back, looked at Emerson and articulately stated, “She’s swearing sensible shoos.”
Bet your bottom dollar…
Emerson had been contacted and beseeched by Annie, an old friend of his, to come see her.
He said to Waldo, “Apparently, she’s in a bit of a quandary regarding her youngest male offspring and would like my input. Won’t you come along with me, mon ami, for moral support? ”
Waldo agreed. The two set off and despite having no experience in family matters were confident that their intellect and reasoning would solve any domestic conundrum that existed.
A distraught Annie invited them into her kitchen and over cups of Oolong tea and almond cookies explained her situation. Her youngest boy had recently confided in her and revealed that he was gay.
She was not shocked or upset over his homosexuality. In fact, she had suspected it for quite some time. She felt that he needed to tell his father as well as his older brother and sister. She didn’t want him to feel ashamed about what was, up until recently, his secret. She wanted him to feel unbound and proud.
She gazed earnestly into the eyes of her old friend Emerson and asked if he thought she was doing the right thing. Was she being too forceful? Should she back off and let him make his own decisions in his own time?
She was seeking a man’s opinion. Unfortunately, the man she was asking was in a state of perplexity. Emerson did not know what to say. He cleared his throat. He hemmed. He hawed.
Finally, Waldo broke the stuttering silence and said to Annie, “Perhaps,” he suggested, “the son will come out tomorrow.”
Editor’s Note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Jackie, Oh…
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It was the late ‘60s. Mike and I were going over to see a girl that he had recently met. We arrived at the apartment building she lived in, climbed the three flights of stairs and knocked on her door.
The door was opened and we walked into quite a sight. Mike’s new acquaintance, Jackie, was there as she had let us in. There were also a couple of other chicks, to use the vernacular of the day, as well as several biker guys clad in boots, jeans, T shirts, chains and leather vests displaying the colors of their gang, er, I mean, club—The Chicago Outlaws.
As unusual as it was to enter an apartment filled with members of a notorious motorcycle organization, it did not throw me very much as in those days, nothing was too unusual and everything was unexpected. In fact, the most unusual sight was the large window screen in the middle of the living room floor.
The screen had a heavy wooden frame. It looked like the kind of screen one would take off of an old house to replace with a storm window during the onset of a Chicago winter. It was big and it was supported by a couple of bricks over a folded out newspaper, most likely the Chicago Tribune. Atop this screen was a large mound of marijuana.
The Outlaws were cleaning the seeds and stems in order to keep the best smokable stuff. It looked like a couple of kilos’ worth of pot sitting on that screen. I’m sure that there was more elsewhere waiting to be cleaned. As many of the bikers that were there and the amount of pot that they may have cared to indulge in, there most certainly looked to be a lot more weed than was needed for “personal use”.
The wheels of their industry was grinding, or to be more exact, shaking away before our eyes.
The bikers looked at us suspiciously but paid us little mind. We were young, skinny hippie doofuses and no threat to the likes of them or anyone else. They may have even offered us a beer. I don’t rightly remember.
We hung around for awhile, trying to stay out of their way, spending most of our time with Jackie and the two other chicks who wandered in and out of various rooms. I vaguely remember spending some time speaking with one of the “chicks”, or she to me. Most likely there was a bit of flirtation going on but nothing beyond that.
Thinking back now, that could very well have been what triggered what happened after that.
Memory of exact details is cloudy, for obvious reasons, but suddenly, a “bad vibe” filled the air and it was directed at Mike and me. Like deer sensing an unfriendly presence in the forest, we decided to quickly skedaddle.
Once outside, we headed for Mike’s car, a 1959 Chevy, and noticed that a couple of the bikers had exited the building as well. We drove off and the bikers on their “hogs” followed. They followed closely.Their headlights lit up the interior of our vehicle.
Mike channeled his inner Steve McQueen and we took off. Seatbeltless, we tested the limits of the Bel Aire’s speedometer as we tore up the pavement on straightaways, careened around corners on two wheels and sped through alleyways, spattering cinders on garages and garbage cans as we tried to lose those persistent bikers and hightail our way from their menacing presence to life, liberty and the pursuit of living without broken bones.
Either the Outlaws were going to get us or a telephone pole.
We did manage to lose them, either through Mike’s breakneck driving ability or the bikers felt that the scare they had thrown into us was enough and had returned to their chums and their cleaning chores.
Needless to say, we never saw Jackie again.
Editor’s Note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Finding Waldo…
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With apologies and homage to Flann O’Brien…
Emerson, as was his wont, had toddled off to visit Waldo, his long-time friend and confrere.
Having reached the abode of his comrade-in-arms, he found the front door ajar. Taking this as an invitation to enter, Emerson stepped inside. After an excursion through an empty parlor he found Waldo ensconced in his study. He was seated behind his desk with ostrich plume nib in hand and a sheet of foolscap spread out before him.
“Hail to thee, dear Waldo.” trumpeted Emerson, trumpeting his arrival.
Waldo glanced up briefly before dipping his nib into an ink pot and returning to write furiously upon the parchment.
Emerson sidled alongside his fidus Achates and inquired, “What, pray tell, are you busying yourself with this fine morning?”
Without missing a beat or the dotting of an i, Waldo responded, “I’m writing a story about Michelangelo when he was a teenager.”
Emerson stroked his cleanly-shaven chin and commented, “That’s an interesting undertaking. What, dare I ask, is the plot of this story?”
Waldo ceased the scribbling of his plumed nib and, facing his bespectacled pal, answered quite matter-of-factly, “It’s about how, as a lonely, poor-complexioned youth, he would spend hours at the shoreline, sending eggs adrift into the ocean.”
“You have struck me speechless, my dear Waldo, but I fear that you shall strike me even dumber as you answer my next query. What is the title of this tale?”
Waldo turned back to scrawl some more in his manuscript and replied, “The Acne and the Eggs to Sea.”
Waldo and Emerson were taking their morning constitutional down the avenue. Waldo was situated on the streetside while Emerson hugged the wall of the long brick building they were ambulating past. Suddenly, Emerson let loose with a howl.
“Owich!” he proclaimed loudly.
With genuine concern Waldo inquired as to the reason for Emerson’s call of distress.
“I stubbed my toe against the wall!” angrily responded Emerson as he comically hopped on one foot while massaging the injured digit with both of his hands, “and it’s your fault!”
“Moi?” replied Waldo, awash in innocence.
“Yes, you. You have all that room in which to walk but, instead, you crowd me and it results in a bruising of my all-important Hallux.”
Waldo sighed. He was used to the accusations hurled at him of being the reason for any tragedy that befell his unfortunate companion for merely being in the vicinity of the incident. He usually suffered these slings and arrows in silence but this time he spoke up.
“Why are you always blaming me for everything that happens to you?” he queried in a tone that teetered on harshness before continuing in a more sympathetic voice, “It’s not healthy. I could get a complex.”
Emerson only grumbled.
They walked only a few more steps before a huge object came crashing heavily to the concrete right in front of them.
As the dust cleared and their wits were gathered, they saw that it was a large safe that had broken free from the ropes holding it by the movers and had fallen several stories, barely missing the pair of squabblers.
Quickly, Waldo turned to his incriminating partner and loudly exclaimed, “Don’t blame me, it’s not my vault!”
Waldo and Emerson were sitting at a table in their favorite coffee house, ‘Le Café Noir”, leafing through the pages of the daily newspaper. Emerson turned to the Want Ads section of the periodical.
“I’m thinking of a career change.” he confided to his compatriot who was busy attempting to fish out a broken bit of biscotti that was afloat in his café au lait.
“In fact,”, Emerson continued, “I’m thinking of entering the rapidly expanding world of lab technology.”
Reaching for Emerson’s spoon to assist in his Ahabian pursuit of the soggy biscuit, Waldo responded with a hearty “Huh?”
“I’ve always had an interest in science as well as a fondness for microscopes. I think I may seriously think about becoming a Lab Tech.”
Waldo, having accepted defeat as the biscotti bit had disassembled itself into a plethora of crumbs, was creating a minor whirlpool in his coffee cup as he stirred, looked up and responded, “Gonna go back to school, eh?”
“Why, yes.” Emerson uttered, “Yes, I suppose I would have to return to those ivied halls.”
“Well, what you should do” voiced Waldo between slurps of his now-cooled hot drink, “is get a Bachelor’s Degree in Lab Technology and then apply for a position with the Mayo Clinic.”
“And why,” began Emerson as he positioned himself to beat a hasty retreat, “should I do that?”
“That way,” Waldo explained, picking out a few crumbs from his lip after draining his cup, “you could be a B.L.T. with Mayo!”
Editor’s Note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Three Rules Of Life…
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I am thought of, when I am thought of at all, as a rather clever fellow, someone who is fast on the draw, sharp as a tack and quick with the wit, able to spray a series of sparkling bon mots like a human AR-15, hitting every target I care to take aim at with acute perception, quickly molding each witticism into a finely formed pearl of perspicacity.
Truth be told, it’s mostly myself that thinks of me in that manner.
But, every yin has its yang. That which is up is like that which is down. A light switch has two positions, although some have dimmers and I readily admit that I can be as dim as any 25 watt light bulb one can find.
Allow me to elucidate.
I recently took my out-of-town guests to Byron’s for a “Chicago Hot Dog” experience. The place is known for its dogs but they also have other items on the menu such as burgers, beef sandwiches, chicken breasts, gyros, pizza puffs (whatever those are) and a few other items that were not encased tube steaks.
I don’t know why they have such an extensive menu, spreading way beyond the noble yet humble hot dog which is the bread and butter or rather, the steamed bun, of their existence.
Nelson Algren’s “three rules of life” are “Never play cards with a man called Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom’s. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own.” I would like to add to those sage bits of advice. “Never order a hamburger in a hot dog joint or a hot dog in a hamburger joint.”
But, this is the modern world. If one doesn’t have a plethora of choices, one feels cheated.
While we were standing in line at Byron’s, delivering our orders and waiting for them to be filled, I espied an item on their menu called a ‘Lord Byron’. Curious, I asked the fry cook what that was. He held up the proper amount of fingers and replied, “Four. Four patties.”
Swallow that, America.
Hours later, I was still trying to figure out what linked Lord Byron, the 18th century English romantic poet, to a four-patty hamburger sandwich until it finally dawned on me. The name of the joint was Byron’s! D’oh!
Sometimes I’m too literal or literate for my own damn good.
Besides not always being able to grasp the obvious, I also have a tendency to mishear things. Again, I have an example to back up this particular declaration.
A few years ago, my wife and I went to Sears to pick up a vacuum cleaner that we ordered. The person at the information desk told us where to go in order to pick it up. I could have sworn she said that we had to turn left and go thru the biblical doors.
As we were walking away, I asked my wife what she thought the girl meant by “biblical doors”. I was picturing ionic columns and arched doorways with some symbolic figures painted on them.
She looked at me, sighed, and said, “She said big double doors.” I must admit, I was a bit disappointed.
My mishearing of things goes back to my childhood. I was in my twenties when I learned that the last line to a popular holiday song was “Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, you’ll go down in history” and not, as I had always believed it to be, “you go down and kiss Doreen.”
In my defense I figured that the hero’s reward was smooching Doreen who was the much desired female reindeer of the herd. I imagined her with a dainty black nose, big brown eyes and long luscious eyelashes batting lasciviously away.
The fact that I had a bit of a crush on a Mousketeer from The Mickey Mouse Club named Doreen may have played a part in this innocently erotic misinterpretation as well.
I could go on and on with examples but I think you get the idea. I ain’t the Oscar Levant I sometimes think I am.
My aural affliction may be a genetic thing, though, just like my high cholesterol and blood pressure.
When I was a kid playing in Little League, my mother once asked me this question after a game.
“There’s one thing I don’t understand.’ she said, “When you’re out in the field with the other team at bat, why are you all chanting ‘Hamburger, hamburger, sa-wing!’”
“Mom,” I replied, trying not to roll my eyes, “We’re saying ‘Hey, batter, hey batter, sa-wing.’”
Hmmm, that particular reminiscence has now made me hungry. Despite my personal credo, I might make a Childe Harold-like pilgrimmage over to Byron’s and order me one of those quadruple patty sammiches.
Editor’s Note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Tales of Brave Ulysses…
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When I was in grade school, I used to do stand-up comedy routines and impersonations around the house, such as made up Osgood Files segments and Walter Jacobsen Perspectives.
My dad was usually the only one paying attention, and I could easily crack him up laughing.
I never took any theater classes in school; instead I went down the math and science tract. And when the school put on a play where involvement was compulsory, I would volunteer in the group that built and assembled the set with the art teacher rather than to perform on stage.
Many years later in my 30s, I decided to revisit this childhood passion for comedy by signing up for a 10-week improv class.
I had this feeling that I would excel and that I’d be fast-tracked to SNL.
To the contrary, I was terrible.
The theory and basic concepts of improv are simple: (i) to embrace and accept everything that someone throws your direction and (ii) respond with the first thing that comes to mind.
But in practice, I couldn’t follow either. I was too judgmental about the stupid shit that the other people said to me and that I had to respond to. And then I would double filter all my responses for fear of saying something perverted or violent.
During our final class performance that was open to the public, I had a mild case of stage fright and I barely contributed.
I’ll blame the failure on my analytical and logic-based education.
For the time being I am going to stick to writing, where I can engineer the flow of a story and carefully select every word.
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I recently hauled out my paperback copy of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” that was purchased in 1969. I had tried reading it twice before. I never got much further than a hundred pages or so (out of 782). Its latest bookmark, from quite a number of years back, was found tucked in at page 116.
I found the bookmark to be an interesting artifact. It was around eight inches long and an inch in width. It was rather carefully torn from a magazine and folded in half. The bold type on one side read, in all caps, “YOU CAN’T BEAT GENERAL ELECTRIC FOR CREATIVE LIGHTING”. Accompanying it was a photo of a man with arms crossed in front of his chest, like he was daring you to knock a chip of wood, or a light bulb, off of his shoulder.
However, I found the reverse side to be of more curious interest. It was part of an article that read thusly:
DO evaluate the intellectual level of your audience . . . and present the essay on that level.
I’m sure that bookmark was chosen totally by chance but I found that it’s relatability to Joyce was interesting. Of course, the audience that Mr. Joyce was writing to was on a much higher intellectual level than I am, several levels, in fact. I wonder if there even was an audience level for the writing of James Joyce. I remember reading a quote of his many years ago that, paraphrased, was “I think one should work as hard reading what I write and I did in writing it.”
Well, I’m going to give “Ulysses” another try and, so far, it is indeed work. At times, reading this is a rather confounding experience but at other times, it is almost exhilarating. The old adage says that ‘the third time is the charm’. We will see.
By the way, regarding that found piece of magazine serving as a bookmark? My friend, Tim Roberts, coined a term for items found in the pages of books, things like bus transfers, grocery lists, ticket stubs, matchbook covers and other forms of detritus used as placeholders.
He calls them “litritus”.
James Joyce, a renown creator of new words, would be proud. By the way, Lewis Carroll, no stranger to word invention himself, dubbed Joyce’s creation of new words via combining existing ones “portmanteau words” and the definition stuck.
Aren’t you glad you’re reading this? Look at all the things you’ve learned. But, as the infomercial huckster says, “But, wait! There’s more!”
When my granddaughter began speaking, she would often use the contraction ‘amn’t’ as in “I’m doing a good job, amn’t I?” We all thought it was a rather creative coining of a contraction as none of us had ever heard it used before. Yet, on page 19 of “Ulysses”, one finds this in a ditty being sung by Buck Mulligan…
“—If anyone thinks that I amn’t divine…”
I guess my granddaughter has a wee bit o’ the Irish in her.
Sue Grafton is a successful author of a series of mysteries that all begin with a letter of the alphabet i.e. “A is for Alibi”, “C is for Corpse”, “M is for Malice”, etc. Her latest book is simply titled “X”.
On page 40 of “Ulysses”, one reads this: “Books you were going to write with letters for titles. Have you read his F? O yes, but I prefer Q. Yes, but W is wonderful. O yes, W.”
Methinks checking the bookshelves of Ms. Grafton would be key in solving the mystery of her title selections. Perhaps it wasn’t laziness but an homage.
Well, as you can see, my perusal of “Ulysses” has garnered, for me anyway, quite a few nuggets of rather fascinating coincidences. And I’m only up to page 42!
Editor’s Note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Scotty Moore…
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Over the internet the news came that Scotty Moore, Elvis Presley’s long-time guitarist, had died at the age of 84. Rock’n’Rollers are living a lot longer than they used to.
This news reminded me of an incident that occurred a year or two ago. My wife and I were at a memorial service. A friend of ours was to sing at it and she performed a stirring rendition of Amazing Grace.
Afterwards, we moved over to a nearby restaurant and a private room where there was a little buffet of hors d’oeuvres as well as a bar. With our little plates and glasses filled we found a table where we seated ourselves and made our introductions to the folks seated there as they made theirs to us.
One of the women seated there was an older woman who was from the South. There was no mistaking that once she began to speak. She was originally from Mississippi. She was very charming and, of course, genteel.
Scotty & Elvis…
The table conversation drifted about from topic to topic as conversations are prone to do when it somehow alit upon the subject of Elvis Presley. My seven year old granddaughter recently admonished me for saying his name in that manner.
“You know,” she said, “you don’t really have to say his last name.”
I’ve already done it twice in this missive. I’ll try to refrain from doing so in the future, with apologies to Mr. Costello.
Back at the table, the woman from Mississippi casually dropped the bombshell that she and Elvis went to high school together. Not only that but he used to hang around in her back yard. He was friends with her sister.
Of course, we peppered her with questions i.e. what was he like, did you hang out, etc.
She replied “I didn’t really pay him much attention because I was a few years older. I was friends with his bass player, Bill Black.”
Bill Black was the bassist in Elvis’ early trio band and is considered one of the pioneers of rock ‘n’ roll music. He did die young at the age of 41 in 1965.
So, the original trio of Elvis, Scotty and Bill are now all gone. I sincerely hope that genteel lady is doing well.
Editor’s Note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was EB Jeebies…
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